Happy Lunar New Year! | Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation

Happy Seollal! Happy Chinese New Year! Happy Lunar New Year! (Depending on what you celebrate and how you call it.) It’s one of the biggest holidays of the year here and I hope you are enjoying the festivities, if you are celebrating at all. Read on for some thoughts on Seollal vs Cultural Appropriation.

Over here in Korea, we usually celebrate by observing some ancestral rites, bowing to our parents (or in my case, parents in law) and sharing food. In my family, we usually eat beef ribs and zucchini and fish fritters, plus rice, soups and traditional kimchis and side dishes (반찬). Some families choose to give money to their younger children (in white or colourful envelopes, rather than red ones). Sometimes, we play some traditional Korean board games.

If you are familiar with Korean culture, you may already know that for occasions such as these, some people in Korea (mostly children) choose to wear a hanbok, a traditional Korean dress that is different from the Chinese cheongsam and the Japanese kimono.

In my case, I put on my navy blue hanbok dress (생활 한복) which I usually whip out for more formal events such as Seollal, Chuseok, weddings and the like, and chucked a cardigan on top. An actual hanbok would be too formal for my liking and may not fit my big white person body. There’s also a little traditional good luck charm called norigae (노리개) dangling from one of the ties, with three separate tassels, the number 3 being a lucky number in Korea. Just for reference, red is not really a lucky colour here, I just like the contrast.

My family loves it when I wear it and all other feedback that I have received from Koreans I meet and talk to has been positive, to the effect that they say they are happy for my showing respect and reverence for their culture.

But this year, it got me thinking.

I have been married to my Korean husband for a long time now – we’ll be celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary this year. We’ve been in Korea for over five years.

I am conversationally fluent in Korean and study Korean every day to keep improving. Went to language school for 9 months. Yes, I do struggle with literature, films, slang, technical terms, business Korean, but I can have conversations in Korean, I can go to government offices by myself to sort out paperwork, I can go see a doctor, I talk to my boss and coworkers in Korean every day, I can explain English grammar in Korean to my students to help them understand, I can comprehend K-dramas and children’s books.

I try to engage with Korean food and culture, I cook Korean dishes and eat them, I make kimchi with the in laws (김장), and all the rest of it.

So really, I would not think of myself as someone who does not engage with their host culture.

And yet. In spite of how much I have a personal dislike for woke culture and SJWs, I cannot help but feel a bit guilty and as though I am culturally appropriating whenever I wear the dress.

I would really like to know this time: What does cultural appropriation mean to you? Is it a Real Thing to you? Where does it end, where does it start?

For example, you may remember this girl in the US who wore a cheongsam to her prom.

Looking forward to talking to you in the comments.

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6 thoughts on “Happy Lunar New Year! | Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation

  1. The hanbok looks pretty on you, and I love how it’s still a minimalist goth (with the black and red). Have you expressed your growing discomfort wearing it with your Korean relatives?

    To me, cultural appropriation has been taken to an extreme. I can see how it is disrespectful with meaningful, sacred items… but a pava (Caribbean) or a sombrero (Mexican) is hardly an offensive thing to wear. My culture has very specific things I never see in the U.S. and I miss it so, and I wish someone would appropriate the heck out of it! So that I can see and be near those things again!

    But, seriously. You are in Korea, participating in the culture. I think it will be good for you to speak to your Korean family about this. You might find that they love you and don’t want you to feel left out! Many hugs and I’m sorry that U.S. hangups have reached so far and wide 😘

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awwww 🥰 I think it might just be my brain trying to stay respectful and culturally sensitive (like I should). It could also be that I’ve read/watched too many news items/comments on the topic.

      I don’t think I’ll bring it up with the family. They’re really quite happy for me wearing it, and it’s not even a real hanbok. I think i might just be a little dramatic 😅

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If your family is happy and welcoming, that’s all that matters 🤗 And you look beautiful! Enjoy the holidays! Everything sounds really interesting and fun 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I personally don´t think you are culturally appropriating anything when you wear that dress, which is actually very pretty and looks really nice on you. The thing is that it´s very difficult to find the line that separates what is and what is not cultural approppiation. I think these days we are taking these sort of matters far to seriously and sometimes people make a big deal of the simplest of things. In my opinion, I think it´s good to take them into consideration, but not making a really big deal out of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good point you’re making – stay aware but also not make a huge deal out of everything. I often struggle to find the right balance or form opinions as most of the time I can see how both sides of an argument have valid, interesting points.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, this is always the case with arguments and opinions and it´s good to look at both sides to get a full understanding and a clearer picture of the whole point.

        Liked by 1 person

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